Being goal-oriented can be a huge benefit to your personal, professional, and financial life. Setting a specific goal, taking action, and tracking your results dramatically increases your chances of success.
Most businesses seek goal-oriented employees. Goal-orientation is a great skill in a teammate. Our society lifts up those who pursue and achieve audacious goals.
Yet, if you aren’t careful, a relentless pursuit of goals can leave you unhappy, unsatisfied, and not all that fun to be around.
How can you achieve the right balance? How can you be goal-oriented and happy?
What Does It Mean to Be Goal Oriented?
Being goal-oriented means you are motivated by achieving a specific outcome. You work with a clear result in mind and take the necessary actions to move you towards that target. You are most effective when your goal is clear.
Positives of Being Goal Oriented
In American society, being goal-oriented is viewed as overwhelmingly positive.
Being goal-oriented increases your chance of. . . well, achieving goals. We love, and celebrate, stories of people setting audacious goals and doing whatever it takes to get there.
By definition a results-oriented person who pursues a goal will achieve it at a higher rate than those who don’t.
Goal-oriented people work with focus. They’re less likely to be distracted or veer off into unproductive directions. If they do, it’s often part of an iterative process that gets them back onto the path to achieve the goal. The goal is the point, everything else is a distraction.
Employers love goal-oriented employees because they achieve the results the company has identified. If you set a clear target and measures for achievement, a goal-oriented person will drive to those at the exclusion of “less productive” tasks.
A goal-oriented person is rarely stagnant. Even when not achieving goals, they’ll be making forward movement. Someone who sets an ambitious financial goal to save $50,000 for example, may fall short at $35,000. Yet, they’ll still have saved more than if they hadn’t set the goal at all.
Sense of Purpose / Motivation
Goal-oriented people rarely lack motivation. Life is viewed through a set of goals to accomplish, and each goal becomes a purpose. Achieving a goal provides a huge sense of satisfaction. Once you’ve felt that, you’ll naturally set more – and therefore rarely lack motivation.
Challenges With Being Goal Oriented
Being goal-oriented is considered an overwhelming positive. However, there are some downsides that we often don’t recognize.
Listless Without a Goal
In the absence of a goal, a goal-oriented person can become listless. This shows up as a lack of focus or an inability to relax.
As humans, we need downtime. That can be challenging for those driven to achieve goals. The absence of a goal is unsettling.
Which leads to. . .
Seek Out The Next Target – Goal Expansion
One of the biggest dangers of goal-orientation is the need to achieve ever greater goals. If you’ve set a goal to run a 5k, your next goal becomes a half-marathon, then a marathon, then an ultra-marathon then…You get the idea.
If you aren’t careful, you can find yourself pursuing ever more aggressive goals. Eventually, we all hit a limit.
Failure is Crushing
If you are driven by achieving goals, failure to do so can be crushing. Sometimes this translates to greater motivation, other times it leads to depression.
Impatient with Others
Goal-oriented people can be incredibly impatient with those who aren’t. We’ve all experienced this on one side or another in group projects. Some are driven by the result, while others value the learning or the social interaction.
Work Can Be Miserable
Goal-oriented people can be highly satisfied by work – if it’s in alignment with their own goals and purpose, they are a member of a high functioning team, and they are able to achieve goals.
Unfortunately, these things aren’t universally true in workplaces. (Shocking, right?)
Company goals are externally set, not all colleagues perform to standards, and some supervisors set unrealistic goals. This is a prescription for misery.
How to Be Goal-Oriented and Happy
Are you goal-oriented but struggle with some of the downsides? My perfectionism in combination with my goal-orientation can lead to some crazy spirals. I’m proud of being goal-oriented and recognize the benefits – but want to mitigate the negatives.
Here’s how you can harness the positives of being goal-oriented while limiting the downsides.
Define Your Own Goals (Alignment)
We are most satisfied when our goals align with our personal sense of purpose. Choose work, whenever possible, that aligns with your own personal goals.
Let’s be realistic – it’s not always possible when you’re working for someone else. You can help by interviewing your employer while they interview you – prioritize alignment.
Once hired, be honest with your supervisor about your goal-orientation and the goals you want to achieve. A good supervisor will harness that drive whenever possible.
Look for portions of your work that build a skillset you value. Maybe you aren’t inspired by the project, but there is a skill within that is worthwhile. Emphasize that in your thinking.
Internal motivation is always more powerful, and satisfying, than external. Work toward your goals, don’t mindlessly grind to those set by others.
Set Reasonable Goals
This is a big one. It is important to you to achieve goals – so set goals that you can achieve.
This does not mean to set easy goals, or shoot for results that you’ll get without extra effort. Those are unreasonable in a different way, and ultimately unsatisfying.
Instead, stretch yourself but take smaller steps when necessary. If you are just starting a business, don’t set a revenue goal of $1 billion dollars in year 1.
If you’re 45, 250lbs and have never weighed less than 200 then 150 isn’t a reasonable target weight. For now.
You aren’t going to ride a leg of the Tour de France faster than a professional cyclist. But, you can definitely ride a leg of the Tour.
If your income is $60,000 you probably aren’t going to increase your net worth by $1.2 m this year.
You get the idea. Achievable goals are good. Impossible ones are bad – you can always redefine the possible later.
Set a Limited Number of Goals
For me, this has made the most difference in my levels of happiness. It can be tempting to set goals in all aspects of your life. The problem is we all have a finite amount of energy and attention. You can’t do it all. If you try, you’ll be exhausted, feel like a failure, and actually achieve fewer positive results.
Don’t set goals in every area of your life.
Don’t set finance goals, exercise goals, weight loss goals, relationship goals, book reading goals, cooking goals, business goals, and home renovation goals. Just reading that list is exhausting, right? Try living it.
Pick the areas where you want to make the most progress and set goals. The other areas can be goals later or *gasp* just things you let happen.
I’ve found 3 goals to be most effective. As they say if everything is a priority, nothing is priority.
Compete With Yourself – Not Others
Comparison leads to misery in most cases. In today’s world, we are constantly bombarded with images and stories of what others can achieve. It’s okay to use that for motivation, but can be counterproductive.
Instead, set your goals in terms of your past self, current self, and future self. Compete with the different versions of yourself and you’ll be happier than if you’re competing with a professional athlete, model, or money-manager.
Past you might have been broke. Current you is debt free. Tomorrow you will have a $20 positive net worth. Future you will be financially independent. None of you are, or need to be, Jeff Bezos.
Frame Failure As Learning
Want to get the best results from being goal-oriented? Then work to shift from a mindset of failure to learning.
Each missed goal is a learning experience that increases your chance of success. It’s a temporary state, a learning opportunity. Not a failure.
Instead of beating yourself up, accept the miss and review why it happened. Then make at least one adjustment.
This is another way to keep failure from being demotivating or debilitating.
Progress, not perfection. If you set challenging (but realistic!) goals you will sometimes miss. This may be the result of something outside your control – an injury, job loss, or a teammate letting you down. Or, it may be because you failed to meet your own expectations.
Misses happen. In almost every case you’ll still be ahead of where you were when you started. Progress.
Many of us who are goal-oriented are horrible at celebrating. When a goal is achieved we are immediately seeking out the next challenge and setting a new goal.
Stop. Take time to celebrate your success. Store those up for those moments of failure or disappointment.
Celebration will be more motivating and make you ultimately happier.
Set Goals, Celebrate Progress, Be Happier
Being goal-oriented is a positive trait. Yet, the downsides can steal the joy from your life.
You don’t need to be miserable in the pursuit of ever greater achievements. Instead, take the following steps:
- Define Your Own Goals
- Set Reasonable Goals
- Set a Limited Number of Goals
- Compete with Yourself Instead of Others
- Frame Failure As Learning
- Emphasize Progress
Your goal-oriented nature will still be satisfied. You’ll achieve just as much – and likely more. Best of all, you’ll do it while being happier.
Enjoy your success – you’ll have earned it.